JAC Stringer’s path to becoming your average fuchsia-haired twentysomething living, working and playing in Cincinnati has probably been a little bit different than yours. And that’s OK.
JAC (all caps, to stand for his old initials) was born, physically, a woman. It took him a long time to realize that being a “woman” is defined by much more than what’s underneath the clothes you wear and that gender is something that can be toyed with and explored just as much as sexuality. “I think ‘trans genderqueer femme boy’ ” is the spiel I usually use,” he says. “Or something like that.”
It’s quite a jumble of a title compared to just “man” or “woman,” a level of self-realization JAC didn’t even know was possible until around the age of 21. As a child, JAC says he learned what it meant to be a girl and a woman — dresses, makeup, dolls, ways of behaving — and it just didn’t all fit. Something was missing, but the words to express it were, too.
He sought purpose early on in his adult life through activist work, focusing on anti-globalization, fair labor laws and anti-war causes, a community in which a strong voice and self-expression are par for the course. It suited his outspoken, self-starting personality, and the passion for social justice was already there; when he heard a self-identified queer professor discussing the “trans*” world (the * signifies the word’s intersection in gender identity and expression, an umbrella term), something clicked, and his life changed forever.
That’s when he went from considering himself a straight, heterosexual girl to a queer, trans* boy in a city where “trans*” and “community” didn’t yet go hand in hand.
That coming out experience, he says, was extremely isolating, but there’s a silver lining: It was precisely those feelings of isolation and confusion that propelled him to become a trans* and queer activist while simultaneously coming out as trans* and queer.
Life as a 21-year-old in college is one often defined by self-exploration, a thriving social life and the nascence of some of life’s most meaningful relationships.
Those last two weren’t so simple while going through the coming out process alone — in 2006, he says, the trans* community in Cincinnati was essentially nonexistent.
So, at first, he turned to the Internet, where, surprisingly, he found a whole new set of stereotypes and binaries, even in the virtual trans* community; the coming-out narratives felt too specific, tales of journeys too narrow and one-sided that they just didn’t seem to jive. JAC, with short hair, flip flops, some purple glasses and chipped silver fingernail polish, describes himself as a human with a lot of feminine personality traits. Well, sort of. “I’m a boy, but I’m also kind of a girl. And I’m also not a boy and I’m also not a girl, so it’s like, what is that?”
Without his natural industriousness, the topography of the local trans* community might look very different than it does today. Instead of internalizing his frustration, JAC decided it was time to start finding the solutions. “Coming out gave me the extra push to find what my passion was and what I really was here to do. It gave me purpose,” he says. “I was like, I know there are other people like me, I just don’t know where they are. And if I start to create things that will help other people who are like me, then I will also benefit from that. If I build community, other people will find it and I will also have community, too.”
Finding that sort of fulfillment in one’s career is pretty atypical, which might be why his resume reads like an overstuffed Rolodex. He’s the founding director of the Midwest Trans* and Queer Wellness Initiative, University of Cincinnati’s GenderBloc, a co-manager/drag performer extraordinaire with the Black Mondays drag cabaret troupe, a public speaker, dancer, poet, -----trained singer, baker and a fan of de-stressing outdoors on swing sets.
There’s a lot more work to be done in unifying the city’s queer community, he says — from the “L”s to the “B”s to the “G’s to the “T”s — but, for now, he’s taking it one day at a time.
“I don’t need to teach everybody exactly who I am every moment I am with them. All I really care about is whether or not they’re treating me as a human being. … That’s what really matters.”